Ten years in the making, "Keep Your Eye on the Ball," a four-foot high by eight-foot wide oil-on-linen surrealistic painting is finally finished and currently on exhibit at the Carbon County Cultural Center.
Hopefully, is the reaction from artist Victor Stabin who has been tinkering with the design since beginning the work in 2000, at a time when there was even odds that this would be his last project.
"People are mesmerized by the painting-staring at it for two minutes," Stabin notes. "Most people visiting the top museums in the world only view a painting for three to six seconds. I don't even invite them in to see the painting – they walk into the room and they get stuck. It's really quite a compliment."
Perhaps what they get stuck in is the time warp that began when Stabin was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.
"I was feeling so weak that it was hard to wear a wristwatch," he explained. "I was pretty jumpy and distracted by the discomfort, and anemic because of less oxygen to my brain. It's not easy being around someone on chemo and getting steroids all day.
"They were giving me a percentage to survive. I felt that if I was going to do this, I would have to do it now."
Stabin had been thinking about this painting for decades. Some 25 years ago, he received a photograph of a seal and two pelicans in a row boat. The seal was looking at a ball.
Seeking a respite from his illness, he rented a summer home on Fire Island, a barrier reef that creates the Great South Bay between Long Island and the Atlantic Ocean.
"I lived on the narrowest part of the island, less than a tenth of a mile wide, and from my house, I could see the ocean and the bay. I was constantly looking at the bay-especially at night. This is not a day at the beach. It is a night at the bay. Stabin's alternative name for his painting is "A Night at the Bay."
He was 45 years old when he started the painting. He wanted to feature the seal in the row boat looking at the ball set against the Great South Bay as a background.
He drew inspiration from the classical surrealists. He remembers as a youth getting $35 from his aunt which he used to buy a book of Salvador Dali's art. He kept it huddled against his chest as he rode home on the New York City subway in fear of it being stolen.
"Now I realize muggers don't steal art books," he joked.
Painting while undergoing chemotherapy was equally a surrealist experience. Like Dali's oozing clocks, time appeared distorted to Stabin-even the more so as he was literally painting for his life. "Tomorrow may never come," he said. "It gave me a sense of destiny."
Stabin gave up all his illustration projects and concentrated on the painting for a year to create what he called his first iteration.
"It was complicated but sparse compared to what it is now," he said. "Books with fluttering pages floated on top of the bay. I spent a lot of time on the painting but I could never settle on it being finished. For all the work that I put in it, I just thought, I really don't like it. I look at it now and I actually do like it."
From time to time, for five years, he reworked the painting. Over the following years, Stabin overcame his cancer, divorced, remarried, and moved to Jim Thorpe, where he and his wife, Joan Morykin, started the Carbon County Cultural Project and the Flow Restaurant. The many commitments took him away from completing his painting.
The painting hung in his studio. It looked at him and he looked at it.
"Four months ago, after it was on the wall for an easy five years," Stabin said, "I'm going to finish this."
"Painting is something that can only be done with a certain amount of solitude and piece of mind," he explained. With his CCCP and Flow projects up and running, he was psyched to finish his 10-year painting project.
"I was looking at it and felt it was dead," he said. "I wanted to do something completely different. I made the sky red and added yellow to the clouds. It took me about two months and here we are.
"I'm not going to work on this anymore. If I want to do anything like it, It will be another painting."
In his final iteration, Stabin introduced turtle figures into the painting integrating it into a developing series of about a dozen turtle-themed paintings. He plans to create signed and numbered prints of the painting "Keep Your Eye on the Ball."
Victor Stabin's paintings may be viewed at the Carbon County Cultural Project, 268 W. Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA 570) 325-8284, www.thecccp.org.